How to Reduce Waste and Increase Restaurant Sustainability

Today’s customers want to eat at restaurants that are committed to aiding the environment. Among the myriad ways you can promote sustainability, one of the easiest is to reduce the amount of waste your restaurant produces.

Reducing your restaurant’s food waste isn’t just good for the environment: it’s also good for your bottom line. Besides providing peace of mind for your customers, sustainable practices can help reduce the amount of money you lose due to food spoilage.

What is food waste and why is it important to my business?

When run poorly, restaurants can be a hotbed of wasteful practices. In fact, restaurants account for as much as 33 billion pounds of food waste every year (according to a study by the EPA). This waste can be broken down into a couple of categories:

Much food waste comes in the form of ingredients that are discarded before even making it to the customer. This pre-point-of-sale waste is often the result of inventory going bad or being damaged in transit. It also includes any food you discard due to appearance.

On the other hand, there’s also post-point-of-sale waste, which includes any food thrown out after being delivered to the customer. Unfinished meals and food being sent back are major sources of post-point-of-sale waste.

Obviously, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Luckily, there are a number of steps we can take to cut down on waste and improve our sustainable practices.

How can restaurants minimize waste?

When we talk about sustainable practices, we’re really talking about the best ways to deal with your restaurant’s waste. However, a good first step is to limit how much waste you generate in the first place.

Here are ways to reduce the amount of waste your restaurant produces:

Audit your waste: This is the best way to learn where the waste in your restaurant is actually coming from. Have your staff sort all waste into separate categories (paper goods, takeout products, produce, meat, plastics, etc.) for a week. Take note of the weight and volume of each category. Whatever is the heaviest or takes up the most space is your prime target.

Document your waste-reduction efforts: As much as possible, you’ll want to continue sorting and recording information on your garbage and recycling. The more details and descriptions, the better. Over time, this will help you monitor how successful your efforts are.

Provide staff with food waste training: Each member of your staff, from the head chef to the bus boy, should know how they can minimize waste in their position. For example, prep cooks should be trained in cutting techniques to maximize the yield from every ingredient.

Proper food storage: Perishables should always be marked with dates and quantity information and monitored closely. Knowledge of food storage best practices is necessary for health department compliance as well as to help reduce the cost of letting food go bad.

FIFO Method: This technique – short for First-In, First-Out – is a simple rule to reduce spoilage. Whenever you receive shipments, take the opportunity to move older stock to the front and ensure that it is used before opening newer product. This is a good example of why proper food storage techniques are so important.

How can you improve sustainability?

Studies show that 85% of unused food in a typical American restaurant is thrown out. With better systems in place, you can find much more productive outlets for unused food, minimizing the amount that ends up in a landfill. Here are some techniques you can use to promote sustainability in your restaurant:

Divert food to food banks: Whenever you have near-expired ingredients or prepared food that is likely to go bad before you can serve it, donate it to a local shelter or food bank. You’ll be helping the community as well as your environmental impact!

You should also know that there are legal protections for you, too. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects restaurants against lawsuits in the eventuality that someone gets sick.

Start a composting program: Leftover food and ingredients past the point of being edible still shouldn’t go into the garbage. Composting is a great way to keep your spoiled produce and other food from ending up in a landfill.

Feed livestock: Depending on your community, you may be able to pass along unwanted food as livestock feed. This is another way to reduce waste and can even provide some income to defray the cost of food that is no longer suitable for human consumption.

Simplify your menu: If you routinely find that your ingredients go bad before you can use them, consider simplifying your menu items. The fewer unique ingredients you need to buy, the less likely you are to accidentally over-order.

Use local and seasonal ingredients: Adapting your menu throughout the seasons is full of advantages. Local, in-season ingredients are more affordable and will last longer. Besides these advantages, it provides an opportunity for you to keep your menu fresh and help support local farmers.

Create weekly specials: This tried-and-true technique has been helping restaurants minimize waste for ages. Limited-time menu offerings are a perfect way to deal with an excess of a product.

Include your community: Whether it’s by opening a community garden, sponsoring local non-profits, or hosting a recycling program, community outreach should be an integral part of your restaurant’s long-term sustainability plan.

What reducing restaurant waste and promoting sustainability means for your customers.

Being active and involved within your community is not just a smart way to promote sustainability. These practices actively help your bottom line by increasing your business. Serving fresh, locally-sourced food and being open about your sustainability efforts are surefire ways to get the community on your side.

Of course, customers can’t take advantage of this if they don’t know about it! That’s why customer outreach is so important. You and your staff should be educated and ready to inform your guests of your practices. You should also update and maintain your menu and website to reflect and promote the measures you have taken to reduce waste and promote sustainability.